“The engineering senior design program and the Enterprise Program are fostering a growing spirit of entrepreneurship and innovation.”

The Michigan Tech SmartZone already has one tenant—an engineering firm spun-off from the university’s Keweenaw Research Center.

For more information, contact Pete Radecki (ppradeck@mtu.edu or 906-487-2228).

Technology Commercialization Starts with a Spark

Carl Anderson and Glen Barna had an idea. What if you could transmit information from a piston inside a running engine to a computer sitting on a tabletop? It would become much easier to monitor a prototype engine, test it under heavy loads and determine when things break.

Barna, a grad student at the time, developed a solution with his master’s thesis, along with his advisor, Anderson, a professor of mechanical engineering.

The idea: to have a tiny transmitter operate at microwave frequencies, allowing real-time monitoring in testing prototype engines.

The result: a company called IR Telemetrics, located in Hancock, near Michigan Tech, and now employing eight. The company’s clients include Caterpillar, Ford Motor, General Motors, and Mercury Marine.

That’s one example of technology spin-off, creating local jobs, and putting to use someone’s good idea. Michigan Tech has a business focus in its technology development and transfer efforts, analyzing the potential commercial value of invention disclosures.

Last year, the university’s license revenues set a new record for the second consecutive year. The number of license agreements, invention disclosures and patents continue to grow.

By many measures, Michigan Tech tops the state in its efforts to transfer technology to the marketplace. For example, Tech produces 3.8 licenses per $10 million in research as opposed to 0.9 at the University of Michigan. Michigan Tech averages more than 10 invention disclosures per $10 million of research, as opposed to Michigan State’s 4.2.

This business approach and can-do attitude also attracts companies with an idea looking for technical and intellectual expertise to make it a reality.

Somero Enterprises, with a manufacturing facility near the university, develops high-tech methods for placing smooth concrete for floors. A 3-D profiler, created by Michigan Tech and licensed to Somero, allows the company’s laser screed machines to make one pass on complex paving projects. The profiler allows the screeds to take on paving projects with strip drains, multiple pitches and contours.

In addition to the IR and Somero examples, Michigan Tech has a number of inventions ready to license. The corporate services office works at matching ideas with companies.

“We meet with the inventor, talk about their goals and interests and the potential for their idea—who would use it for what,” says Jim Baker, director of technology partnerships. “We talk to an attorney about a patent and we begin engaging commercial partners. We want to market the invention to the right industrial sector and company.”

Baker pointed out an unexpected statistic: about one-third of invention disclosures in the past two years have come from undergraduates.

“The engineering senior design program and the Enterprise Program are fostering a growing spirit of entrepreneurship and innovation,” said Pete Radecki, executive director of corporate services.

The Enterprise Program is a three-year experience, where students run companies to produce products or provide engineering services (see the article on page 20). Both enterprises and senior design projects involve teams and support from industry.

“These programs are producing year-over-year increases in numbers of invention disclosures,” Radecki said. “Some have filed for patent protection and have commercial license potential.”

Contact Jim Baker at jrbaker@mtu.edu or go to the Web: http://www.mtf.mtu.edu/corporate/